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Together the universities from Leiden and Paramaribo tackle ecological and social challenges

Research on flora and fauna with attention for economic interests and partnership with the local population. This is all bundled in a cooperation programme of the Anton de Kom University of Suriname and Leiden University. Working together on the basis of equality is key. ‘A thorny challenge, but one we do not shy away from.’

Suriname is one of the most forested areas in the world, with a lot of rainforest that is largely difficult to access and therefore pristine. At the same time, logging for tropical hardwood exports threatens nature, as does gold mining. Moreover, oil has recently been found in the seabed off the coast of Suriname; its extraction brings challenges for protecting marine flora and fauna. ‘Natural resources are important as a source of income’, says Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Behaviour Hans Slabbekoorn, ‘but sustainable development and smart alternative ways of mining and nature restoration are an absolute necessity.’

Important for diversity and biodiversity

Slabbekoorn is one of the initiators of BioREPS: Biodiversity Research & Education Program Suriname. It is a joint project of Leiden University and Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS). On 30 October, the universities signed an agreement on cooperation in research and education. The cooperation also includes exchange of staff and students. The agreement was publicly sealed at the Suriname Symposium on 5 December in Leiden. Slabbekoorn: ‘Our rector magnificus Hester Bijl gave a very positive and optimistic speech about the possibilities and importance of cooperation for diversity in academia and biodiversity in Suriname.’

The handshake between AdeKUS board secretary Shiraz Boedhoe and Leiden rector magnificus Hester Bijl sealed the agreement between the two universities.

Slabbekoorn, who will travel to Suriname in February to undertake, among other things, a forest expedition, emphasises that the cooperation between AdeKUS and Leiden has more dimensions than just scientific progress. ‘The relationship between Suriname and the Netherlands has its origins in a turbulent and incredibly cruel history. None of the culprits of slavery are alive today, but we think it is important to convey that knowledge about the events of that time is shared.’

Cooperating on the grounds of equality

Much inequality in the world is a direct result of unfair colonial history, according to Slabbekoorn. ‘Cooperation based on equality is therefore difficult, due to unequal opportunities for people from different countries and unequal opportunities for different population groups from the same country. Also, neo-colonialism and suspicion always lurk.’ For the BioREPS initiators, this is no reason to shy away from the challenge. ‘We are determined to show that diversity of people and perspectives benefits science and that you can pursue common goals with pleasure and success.’

Many contacts made already

Within BioREPS, the universities aim to form a joint network of scientists that stimulates and guides all kinds of research projects and educational initiatives in Suriname. Slabbekoorn: ‘There are now many contacts between research groups from Dutch universities and Surinamese plant and zoological collections, agricultural institutes, and many NGOs in the field of nature conservation and advocacy for local people.’

The BioREPS initiatives deal with knowledge and protection of biodiversity, including the context of all social interests, political tensions, and ecological challenges. For example, mangrove forests and sandy beaches under pressure from coastal development, while they are nurseries for fish, and nesting areas for birds and sea turtles. Slabbekoorn: ‘The explicit intention is to involve the insights of local people, including Maroons (descendants of enslaved people, ed.) and indigenous peoples.’

Logo BioREPS

Support the BioREPS team

Through Leiden University’s Crowd-funding-platform, anyone can contribute to the work of BioREPS. The next goal is to fund research materials and educational activities for students in Suriname in 2024. Funders with more potential are still needed to finance, for example, a series of PhD projects. For more information, please contact one of the scientists involved.

Photos of the delegation and handshake: Lucas van der Horst
Photos of Surinamese nature: Devika Narain
Text: Rianne Lindhout


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